Naoya Inoue is pound-for-pound number one: Move over Bud Crawford, The Monster is king

We already knew that Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue was a very special fighter. Now we know that he’s even better than that.

On Monday, for the first time in his career, “The Monster” was knocked clean off his feet in a fight. Mexican southpaw and former two-weight world champion Luis Nery caught Inoue in the opening round with a savage left hand to the jaw that dropped him hard at the Tokyo Dome.

Shaken up when he rose, Inoue backed off for the remainder of the session and used the one-minute rest period before round two to clear his head. Immediately, the requisite adjustments were made to take away Nery’s vaunted left hand, and then Inoue went to work… in earnest.

Bang! Down went Nery from a left hook in round two. Bang! Down went Nery from another left hook in round five. Bang! Down and OUT went Nery from a lightning-quick double right to the jaw in round six. It was an exquisite performance from one of the greatest boxers of the modern era. Yes, I said it.

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And as well as that, Inoue is also the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.

In July of last year, I took a hammering from Team Inoue for favouring Terence Crawford as the best fighter in the world. I had my reasons for making that choice. In my opinion, Crawford outclassing and stopping Errol Spence Jr. was more impressive than Inoue taking down Stephen Fulton. Even after Inoue had hammered the reliable Marlon Tapales to become undisputed super bantamweight champion in December, I still wasn’t convinced he was better than his welterweight (soon-to-be super welterweight) counterpart.

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I am now. Inoue continues to go from strength to strength and we’re still learning new things about him. What we know after the 27th straight triumph of his Hall of Fame career is that the Japanese star can take a killer blow and still prevail. You’ll encounter the odd sorry soul who’ll try to convince you that Inoue being knocked down shows that he’s not that good after all. That’s just a shortcut to thinking.

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With very few exceptions, most great fighters will go down at some point in their careers. Muhammad Ali was dropped by Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper before he even became champion. Sugar Ray Leonard was decked by journeyman Kevin Howard in 1984. Inoue was just put over by arguably the hardest puncher in his division besides himself. What do all three champions have in common? They all got up to win by stoppage. That’s how you cement yourself as a great fighter.

This moment has added to Inoue’s legacy. I’ve said many times that “The Monster” is the perfect blend of speed, power and technique. Those attributes are matched only by his willingness to fight the best and his fighting heart. But the other thing Inoue has going for him is that he’s so much busier than his pound-for-pound contemporaries.

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Since this decade began, Crawford has gone 4-0 in world title bouts. Granted, the graceful American switch hitter scored the biggest win of his career when he took out Spence, but his ring activity has still been shockingly low. The same is true of unified heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk (also 4-0) although the war in his home country of Ukraine has been a huge contributing factor.

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Inoue has gone 8-0 in world title fights since 2020. He has become undisputed champion in two divisions during that time and has taken down a string of world-class operators. Not one of those opponents has managed to last the distance and you could count the number of rounds Inoue has lost on one hand.

The Japanese warrior’s stay at the top of the pound-for-pound perch may be brief – especially if Usyk finds a way to beat Tyson Fury on May 18 – but Inoue deserves his flowers right now. He’s an incredible boxer, and fight fans the world over should be privileged that they’re seeing his epic rise.

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